WATERVILLE — The downtown arts scene will be a greater magnet for economic development if plans for a $50,000 grant come to fruition.

The Waterville Main Street program received the grant from the Maine Arts Commission to help support existing arts and cultivate new arts ventures.

The Creative Communities = Economic Development Grant is given to two communities annually, according to Main Street Executive Director Shannon Haines. Belfast received the other grant.

Haines and Emilie Knight, a Main Street volunteer who has been hired to coordinate the grant, say three goals have been established for the money:

* To create a cooperative downtown arts space for teaching and exhibiting the arts in all forms and mediums.

* To develop a collaborative web and social media presence and more permanent printed materials to let people know what is available for arts and culture in Waterville.

* To provide incentives for artists to create businesses downtown. The incentives include an existing downtown forgivable loan program (totaling $100,000) for that purpose, as well as mini-grants to help bring artists into downtown to create public works of art such as murals, sculptures and installation art.

Through the forgivable loan program, artists may borrow between $15,000 and $50,000. The loan is administered by Kennebec Valley Council of Governments; the money is available through the downtown tax increment financing, or TIF, district and could be used for businesses such as bookstores, galleries, museums and music stores.

The Colby College Museum of Art will be involved in the cooperative downtown arts space, Haines said. “We’re really excited to partner with the Colby Museum and have them even more involved in downtown,” she said.

Haines and Knight say the city has much to offer in the way of arts, including at the Waterville Opera House, Colby Museum and Railroad Square Cinema, and the grant will add to offerings, not replace existing ones. “I think it’s the right time for Waterville to get this grant,” Haines said.

Knight, 23, a graduate of both Winthrop High School and Wesleyan University (where she studied environmental science and anthropology), will research what other communities comparable to Waterville are doing in terms of arts and culture.

She has also spent time interviewing and photographing dozens of shop owners and managers recently to help create professional posters that will hang in storefronts. The posters contain profiles of the business, owners and managers, and other information.

She also organized an Earth Day event downtown last year and volunteers at Barrels Community Market.

Last year, Knight helped create a community mural in her home town of Winthrop. About 200 community members painted a 60-by-12-foot outdoor mural celebrating the town’s history of farms, apple orchards and gardens on the wall of a Maine Street building.

Knight has always felt an affinity for Waterville, because as a child her family watched films at Railroad Square, visited the Colby Museum and ate at Grand Central Cafe.

When she was about 10, she was invited into the kitchen at Grand Central by then-owner Stu Silverstein to try her hand at making bread after she raved about it, she said.

“And Railroad Square was kind of our source for real films rather than just movies,” she said. “There isn’t really anything like Railroad Square.”

Now a Fairfield resident, Knight will coordinate the grant through December.

“We want people to get to know Emilie,” Haines said. “She’s going to be out in the community talking to people a lot in the coming months.”

Knight said she is looking forward to getting to know the city even better. “I’m very excited to see where we can take this project,” she said. “Like Shannon said, it is perfect timing for the city.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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